In January, outraged by a cartoon released by Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Islamic protestors looted and burned more than 45 Christian homes, businesses, and churches in Nigeria. In February, ISIS released a video depicting the graphic beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped from the Sirte, Libya. On March 15, the Pakistani Taliban sent suicide bombers to attack two different churches, killing 17 and wounding 78 others.
Of course, we all can recall the recent slaughter of Christian believers at Garissa University College in Kenya on April 3. On that Good Friday, four Islamic militants stormed the university dorms in search of Christians. They killed 148 and injured 80 more that day.
The headlines these days can be chilling. We read of the spreading persecution; we watch news stories that show images of the blood, the terror, the loss; and we try to make sense of it all from the comfort of our relatively safe and unhindered lives here in America. And then, we move on...
This all changed for me after a recent horrifying terrorist attack on Christians. What normally would have been a news story that caused me grief for a day or two as I pondered their suffering, turned into a reality that shook me to my core. You see, this terrorist attack occurred in the very country where my husband will be traveling soon for missions.
Immediately upon hearing of the unimaginable attack, my thoughts went to Trey's safety: "Surely they will call off this mission trip...he couldn't possibly go to such a dangerous place!" We are, after all, Americans, right? The world is a dangerous place for us, and the terrorists are not stopping in their efforts to destroy Americans, Christians in particular. I emailed my husband that day and asked him if he had seen the news of this attack. "Yes," he responded. I then quickly replied that this scared me for his safety. His response?
"Better start praying."
Ah, yes, my ever witty and stubborn husband let me know where he stood on the matter. You can imagine my initial reaction to his seemingly insensitive reply. "Not funny!" I wrote back. Throughout that day and into the night, I allowed my imagination to envision all of the horrors that might possibly come his way on this trip. He could die! He could be captured! He could be tortured!
Somewhere along the way, though, through the course of my selfish fears and insecurities, I heard a gentle whisper in my spirit: "But if you won't go, will you then let them win?"
It hit me with a force that sobered my wallowing self-pity. To not go, to shrink back in fear of those who might harm us, is to let them win. I thought of those Christian pastors in this country, the ones to whom my husband is going to minister and to train. They face these dangers every day, and they are my brothers in Christ. I thought of their wives, their children, their relatives, their neighbors, some who believe and some who don't. Some who have heard, but some who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I remembered the Apostle Paul's words:
"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14-15
In other words, if not us, then who?
Over two thousand years ago, a Man was crucified for His radical teachings, His radical works, His radical life. But He did not remain dead for long. He arose from the dead three days later, and He charged His followers: "Go." Go, tell the good news that death has been conquered, that sin no longer has to have a hold on your lives. Go, spread this message, for it is your life. Go, no matter what horrors might come your way, for My message is that important. Go.
His followers went, and from this grassroots effort the message of Jesus Christ spread like wildfire. Their work did not come without cost, though, for many gave their lives for the cause of Christ. Of these believers the author of Hebrews writes, "But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls" (vs.39)
We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed.
If not us, then who will go?
Christ told the disciples, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He did not say, I will do my best to keep you comfortable and happy. He did not say, If the area is too dangerous to take my message there, then don't worry about it. Instead, He told us what we need to know to find His comfort and peace as we face tribulation in this life. Persecution is nothing new, and there is a long line of believers who have gone before us, standing firm in Christ in the face of the most vile forms of persecution.
I think of Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Nate Saint, and Pete Fleming, five men who bravely tried to take the Gospel to the Aucas, a dangerous and uncivilized Indian tribe in Ecuador. This tribe killed every outsider who had ever attempted to enter their territory. On January 2, 1956, these five men entered Aucan territory and later died for the sake of the gospel, brutally murdered by the Aucas men. But their story does not end there, for two years later, Elizabeth Elliot (Jim's wife), their daughter Valerie, and Rachel Saint (Nate's sister) moved into the Auca village, taking the Gospel to this unreached people group and watching as the message of Jesus Christ changed their lives.
I think of Maqhamusela Khanyile, who on March 9, 1877, was pierced to death with spears for his decision to follow Christ. Before his death, he said, "Let me pray first," and knelt before the Lord. After praying, he stood before his accusers and said, "Now I am ready. Slay me."
I think of the French Protestants, who, in 1790, were brutally attacked by French Catholics. It is written of them in Foxe's Book of Martyrs,
"A man named Astuc was wounded and thrown into the aqueduct; Baudon fell under the repeated strokes of bayonets and sabers, and his body was also thrown into the water; Boucher, a young man only seventeen years of age, was shot as he was looking out of his window; three electors wounded, one dangerously; another elector wounded, only escaped death by repeatedly declaring he was a Catholic; a third received four saber wounds, and was taken home dreadfully mangled."
There are countless other martyrs whose stories are worthy of our time, going all the way back to the time of Christ and even before. Some were stoned to death, some fed to ravenous lions, some burned at the stake, while others were crucified, shot to death, or stabbed to death. But truly, the means by which they died is not as important as the message for which they died: to live is Christ, but to die is gain!
In a few weeks, I will kiss my husband goodbye and proudly watch as he goes to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a country not unfamiliar to Christian persecution. I do not wish my husband to be a martyr this month, but I write this to say that we have counted the cost, and we believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is worth the risk. Today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. I will pray then, as I am already praying now, for God's safety and protection over him and those he works with as they labor to further God's Kingdom. I will remember those who daily live in the reality of physical danger because of their belief in Jesus Christ. I will have my fear in order, choosing to fear properly, for Christ tells us, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).
These enemies of the Cross, what can they really do to us, anyway? Take our possessions, our homes, our livelihoods? Take our lives? But we serve a God who has redeemed our souls from death. The victory in Him is already ours!
Suit up, soldier, the battle is fierce and raging, and you are needed on the front lines. Armor ready, warriors of Christ, for the mission is worthy of your life. It may cost us everything in this world, but if not us, then who?